Supervisors deny Menlo Park's appeal of Stanford project | January 31, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - January 31, 2018

Supervisors deny Menlo Park's appeal of Stanford project

by Kate Bradshaw

Despite Menlo Park's protestations that a proposal by Stanford to build a new office building will worsen traffic in its territory, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously denied the city's appeal of the proposal — thereby clearing the path for the project to move forward.

Menlo Park Mayor Peter Ohtaki and Assistant Public Works Director Nikki Nagaya traveled to San Jose to plead the city's case before the supervisors on the morning of Jan. 23, asking the county to require Stanford to make some commitment to mitigate the traffic the project will create.

The planned building, a four-story structure with three levels of underground parking at 453 Quarry Road, is to be the university's new "Center for Academic Medicine," intended to operate as an office and research building for Stanford medical faculty, administrators and staff. Stanford needed clearance from the county to shift 115,000 square feet of development it had been granted from one area of the campus — nearer to Palo Alto — to Quarry Road, an area nearer to Menlo Park and Sand Hill Road, though still in unincorporated Santa Clara County territory.

Stanford claims the transfer of square footage from one area to another is irrelevant because the main gauge of traffic impacts, the number of parking spots the new building will add — about 600 in this case — is still smaller than the 858 the university has already gotten approval to build in that area of the campus.

There was some discrepancy in the expected traffic impacts reported by Menlo Park and by county planners. Menlo Park's Nikki Nagaya argued that the traffic analysis didn't fully take into account current and cumulative future traffic conditions the city requested, and asked for further study. Santa Clara County planners replied that they had done the analysis that Menlo Park asked for, but the expected amount of new traffic didn't rise to the level of impact that would require the university to take steps to mitigate.

The county planners told the supervisors that in their evaluations, even with layering on the university's current, planned and proposed developments, the expected traffic projections fall short of the maximum amount of traffic the university was permitted to generate in its 2000 General Use Permit.

Another point of tension that Menlo Park council members have expressed was that the project came as a surprise to them: The city didn't find out about the project until it was slated to appear before the Santa Clara County Planning Commission, the body that typically makes decisions on such matters — and that was only because Kristina Loquist, a staffer in Supervisor Joe Simitian's office, alerted Menlo Park Councilman Ray Mueller.

At the time, the council and staff requested and received a delay on the hearing, quickly cobbled together some questions, and asked that further analysis be done to evaluate the impacts the new structure might have on Menlo Park traffic conditions, especially along Sand Hill Road and El Camino Real, two adjacent thoroughfares that commuters would be likely to traverse when getting to and from the new building.

After the county Planning Commission approved the project unanimously, the city of Menlo Park appealed the project to the Board of Supervisors.

Mr. Ohtaki and Ms. Nagaya's arguments pointed to deeper tensions with Stanford than just this single building. They argued that the cumulative traffic impacts of Stanford's projects at 500 El Camino Real in Menlo Park, its satellite campus growing in Redwood City, two hospital projects, and ongoing expansion in the campus proper have created noticeable impacts on traffic in Menlo Park and are affecting residents' quality of life.

The revelation of the planned building's shifted location increased concerns over the cumulative effects of Stanford's planned growth, and was enough to change a swing vote by Councilwoman Catherine Carlton to rescind council approval of another proposal by Stanford to build a new office building at 2131 Sand Hill Road and annex the territory into the city of Menlo Park. That proposal is now back under review.

Mr. Ohtaki argued that Menlo Park bears many of the burdens of Stanford's growing density without the same boons in sales and property tax revenue that flow to Santa Clara County and Palo Alto (though Menlo Park does claim tax revenue from Stanford properties in the city used for non-academic purposes.)

"With great respect to Stanford, we'd like to ask your support to get them to engage in a collaborative discussion toward mitigating impacts in Menlo Park," Mr. Ohtaki said, addressing the supervisors. He characterized the university's previous responses as effectively saying, "Well, it was part of the (2000 General Use Permit). Too bad."

In response, Catherine Palter, Stanford associate vice president of land use, said that the 2000 plan's approval was conditional on not adding new vehicle trips within its campus, and that the university has adhered to that commitment.

"I'm persuaded Stanford followed the rules," concluded Supervisor Cindy Chavez. "Having said that, I am troubled that we can have such a big move from one district to another and not properly engage the surrounding cities."

In voting to deny the appeal, county Supervisor Joe Simitian said he wanted Stanford to make it a policy that it will inform all of the jurisdictions that control or border its territory about land use decisions. He also made it a condition that all contractors Stanford works with for the construction of the project be required to sign a form indicating they are aware of and will stick to using only the designated routes to enter and exit the campus to minimize the impacts of construction-related traffic.

"Progress has been made, incremental though it may be," Mr. Simitian summarized.

According to a Stanford website, the construction timeline is for fall 2017 through winter 2019.

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